CRJ: minimum or maximum standards?

There’s a row brewing between David Hanson and Alex Attwood over the form of scrunity to be used in monitoring the Community Restorative Justice schemes, which is in turn tied in with issue of public funding. The Minister denies receiving a response to his draft proposals for minimum standards, allowing schemes in Republican areas to operate beyond the auspices of the PSNI. In its detailed paper submitted to the minister last October the party argues that without maximum standards, the official state licensing of CRJ could lead to significant Human Rights abuses.According to yesterday’s PA report Attwood’s primary concern is that the integrity of the Criminal Justice Inspectorate may be compromised by undertaking to validate some schemes that don’t recognise the PSNI:

The CJI would be giving validation to restorative justice schemes even when the protocol does not cover 95% of restorative justice work. The protocol does not create independent complaints schemes. The requirements around training and human rights are inadequate. The commitment of restorative justice schemes to assist the police is vague and evasive.

The CJI has a critical role in investigating criminal justice institutions in the North. That is the role given to it following the Good Friday Agreement. It would be going into dangerous waters if it assumes a role in monitoring and accrediting restorative justice schemes, when the schemes are established on such weak and shoddy principles.

The party’s paper is more specific:

To be effective and to comply with Article 3.6 of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Non-Custodial Measures, a proper complaints mechanism must be independent and statutory – with full powers to call persons and papers and powers of entry and to seize documents – similar to the powers given to the Children’s Commissioner and Police Ombudsman. This could be done by a new restorative justice agency, as was envisaged by the Criminal Justice Review. What is critical, however, is that there is some competent independent statutory body to perform this function.

It does not believe that the internal mechanism as per the draft proposal can reliably fulfill this role. In respect of the protection of children it detects another deficit:

…all the human rights safeguards that apply to the state Youth Conferencing Service must also apply here.

These include:

i the right of a solicitor or a barrister for the child to attend;
ii presence of the police and, where appropriate, probation officers;
iii availability of legal aid;
iv the right of the child to refuse to be subject to the restorative justice programme at any time;
v screening of those engaged in restorative justice programmes to ensure that they are credible and suitable people to be involved in restorative justice. For example, to ensure they are appropriate to work with young people, do not have backgrounds in delivering punishment beatings or are otherwise unsuitable.

Finally, it lays out two conditions that should be met before government funding of CRJ schemes goes ahead:

First, an end to paramilitary community control in the relevant community. Cases like the murder of Robert McCartney and subsequent cover up have shown the lengths to which paramilitaries will go to protect their own members. To this day nobody in Magennis’s bar has provided any evidence of any value that could help bring Robert’s murderers to justice. The culture of community control by paramilitaries, loyalist and republican, must end before community restorative justice groups are funded in the relevant community. This must be demonstrated in the case of Robert McCartney in particular.

Second, and above all, there must be cooperation with the police and acceptance of the rule of law by parties from which community restorative justice groups take their lead. For example, Sinn Fein need to take their seats on the Policing Board and cooperate with the police and the rule of law.

On a more political angle, in his response to the Minster last night, Attwood pointedly suggests that the British government stance on the standards applicable to CRJ may be the result of a sidedeal already made with Sinn Fein:

What is of concern is that it may be that the government, having got its On The Run and state killers proposals badly wrong and had their sordid deal with the IRA so fully exposed, that they have decided that they will concede no ground on any other possible deals done with the provisional movement, including perhaps, any deal done on Restorative Justice. The SDLP very much hopes that is not the case.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty